By Krishna N. Das
NEW DELHI, Feb 18 (Reuters) - Indian Prime Minister NarendraModi on Thursday urged neighbouring countries to considersharing data on the effectiveness of COVID-19 vaccines andexplore special visas for medics to move around the regionduring health emergencies.
As the dominant power in and around South Asia, and with thecapacity to be the world's top maker of COVID-19 shots, Indiahas gifted or sold more than 17 million doses to countriesincluding Bangladesh, Nepal, Sri Lanka and the Maldives.
Indian companies have promised to produce billions ofCOVID-19 shots this year alone.
Some analysts say India's high-profile vaccine diplomacycould help it win back strategic influence lost to richer rivalChina in many smaller countries in the region.
"Can we create a regional platform for collating, compilingand studying data about the effectiveness of COVID-19 vaccinesamong our populations?" Modi said in an address https://www.pib.gov.in/PressReleasePage.aspx?PRID=1699031to regional health officials meeting virtually.
"Can we consider creating a special visa scheme for ourdoctors and nurses, so that they can travel quickly within ourregion during health emergencies, on the request of thereceiving country?"
India, the world's biggest overall vaccine producer, hasapproved for emergency use Bharat Biotech's COVID-19 vaccinedeveloped with the state-run Indian Council of Medical Research,and another licensed from AstraZeneca and OxfordUniversity.
The Serum Institute of India (SII), the world's biggestvaccine maker, is producing the AstraZeneca product for low andmiddle-income countries and will soon start bulk-manufacturingthe Novavax shot.
Several other vaccines are in the pipeline in India, whichhas supplied mainly SII-made shots to 25 countries with plans toadd 49 more. It has also promised to gift 200,000 doses to UNpeacekeepers around the world.
India has reported about 11 million COVID-19 infections andmore than 156,000 deaths. It has administered nearly 9.5 millionvaccine doses since mid-January, although some Indians havecriticised its focus on exports when they say more needs to bedone to inoculate at home.(Reporting by Krishna N. Das; Editing by Mike Collett-White)